Fear of Special Needs Adoption and Accepting this Referral or Match

What happens if you don’t have a feel of “just knowing” when you receive your adoption match or referral. Does your fear mean you should not accept the match?

I received this intriguing question.  I kept thinking about it, and when I realized that I couldn’t answer it briefly, I decided to turn it into a blog.

Hi, Dawn. I love your site, I love your manner.  Do you have any words of wisdom for families where one parent feels sure and confident in a child’s special needs file and the other one does not?

My husband and I are about half-way through our home study and intend to adopt from China’s special needs program. Last week, we came across a blog of a family who has adopted a girl with albinism. We were touched and added that condition to our list of needs to consider. Today, our agency sent out a list of profiles and there was a 3 yr. old girl with albinism. It was just crazy enough that I thought it might be God. I asked for her file, and when I saw it, I did not feel the “this is our daughter” or “just knowing” that many moms speak of, but when I showed it to my husband, he was excited and ready to pursue her. Thoughts?

Distrusting “Just Knowing”

Yes, I’ve had lots of thoughts.  I distrust that feeling of “just knowing’. I’m not sure why exactly.  Maybe it’s a right brain/left brain thing, and for better or worse, I’m more of a left brain type.  Or maybe I’m a little jealous of those gifted with certainty, since I’m usually stuck with questioning, second guessing, and stepping out on the limb with just faith, hope and prayer. Although this question deals with seeking certainty with an adoption, I hear it from people throughout the trying to conceive/infertility/adoption spectrum.  “I just wish I knew for sure whether __________________ (this next cycle would work, donor egg is right for me, to adopt, I’ll regret stopping treatment).  I feel your pain.

My Terror of Heights (and why that matters)

I’m afraid of heights—well, terrified really.  A couple of years ago, we went to a
Family Weekend at a nearby camp with our two younger kids. We had a great time doing family art projects, music, and games, and were looking forward to the promised special treat in the afternoon.  I had visions of S’mores, or at the very least hot cocoa, but when the time came our perky fearless counselor announced that the “special treat” was the high ropes course.  For the record, the word “treat” should only be used in connection with the words “chocolate” or “frivolous purchase of shoes”.  It should never, repeat never, be used to describe an experience involving thin ropes precariously strung three stories above a concrete floor.

Since death defying feats deserve proper attention and encouragement from the ground (and since I was scared spitless), I selflessly volunteered to be the group cheerleader.  Unfortunately, one of my kids quickly decided to join my cheerleading squad.  What a parental dilemma!  I didn’t mind being a chicken, but I did mind patterning that behavior for my child.  (Being a role model sucks!)

Sighing deeply and cursing my discomfort with hypocrisy, I told my son that I was really scared, but that I knew it was safe and that I didn’t want to miss something just because I was afraid.  He could decide for himself, and it would be OK either way, but I thought I would try the course.  He, no doubt also sighing deeply and cursing my discomfort with hypocrisy, said he would try if I would go first.

Now here’s the illogical part of fear: I was totally harnessed in and on a belay rope the entire time.  Logically I knew that I could not get hurt—embarrassed, yes; physically hurt, no.  But logic was nowhere present as I stepped out on that rope.  Making that first step took every bit of courage I could muster, and every step after was a step of faith.  I wanted desperately for a handrail to add certainty to my steps, but all I had was a very thin rope.

What to Do When Scared Spitless

For me, that’s how it is with most of the big decisions in life.  I know a lot of people report a sense of “just knowing” what is right, but I seldom have it.  In fact, “just knowing” almost seems like cheating or taking the easy way out.  In my mind, big decisions should be weighed; pro/con lists should be made; a certain amount of angst should be experienced.  I also wonder if others really have the sureness at the time, or if it is only after the fact that they remember “just knowing for sure”.  It’s easy to know what’s right when you see how it turns out and to forget the uncertainty, the fear, the confusion, and the fervent prayer experienced when actually making the decision.

So, here’s the truth: there were moments when I was scared to death before our adoption.  I dithered and debated with myself about whether her special needs were too big or too unknown for us to handle. Were we nuts to have so many kids?  I wondered if I was making the right decision for my children, or if I was I selfishly satisfying my desires to their detriment.

The “Preponderance of Feeling” Test

My approach to big decisions is to combine research with my self-named “preponderance of feelings” theory.  I read everything I can find, talk with people, weigh pros and cons, and take frequent readings of my emotional temperature.  If my fear and uncertainty is going up, that’s a sign to back away.  If they’re going down, even slightly, then that’s a sign to move forward.  I take a day or two where I try to walk through the day living out the decision.  What would my day be like if I decide one way or the other?

Once we accepted the referral, I had more and more moments of blissful certainty.  After I held her in my arms I was overcome by clarity.  That was my pattern.  I know that for many certainty doesn’t come the moment they hold their child.  It may arrive months later with a smile or a hug.  Some don’t ever need to know that they made the “right” decision.  For them, it only matters that this is the life they are now living.

How to Decide Whether to Accept This Adoption Match/Referral

I don’t know whether this is the child for you, and I would never tell you to put your concerns aside and just step out on faith.  What I am saying is that I wouldn’t let your lack of the mystical “knowing” be the deciding factor.  Rely on how you have made big decisions in the past?  Research albinism and all that it would mean for you to parent a child with this condition, and what it would mean for your family.  (There is no better place than the Rainbow Kids Special Needs page for starting this research.)  Read up on albinism at the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation website.  Talk with your doctor and a specialist.  Analyze how well this child’s age and gender would fit within your family structure.

I suspect part of your uncertainty comes from how quick this referral came.  You haven’t had much time to prepare mentally for any child, much less a child with albinism.  If you still have a lot of fear and uncertainty after you’ve paid your dues with research and indecision, then maybe that’s your answer.  I work on the theory that each spouse has veto power over major life decisions.  It’s fair for your husband to try to educate you and sway you, but if you still say no, then the answer is no.

I wish I were a person who didn’t want the handrail of certainty in life.  I know deep down that there are no guarantees of a perfect decision leading to the perfect happily ever after, but I still envy those people who think otherwise.  For me, I’ll just have to be content with stepping out on that very thin rope with a lot of faith, hope, and prayer.

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